How to align your sales and marketing functions – once and for all

It’s a tale as old as time – sales and marketing people who share the same end goal heading off in different directions. So how can you put a stop to it?

John Cheney, CEO of cloud-based CRM vendor Workbooks, analyses what’s really going wrong and how to finally get all those ducks in a row…

Alignment between sales and marketing should be a priority for any business leader looking to generate growth. Of course, experience tells us that’s easier said than done. Their intended destination may be the same, but often sales and marketing teams have been at odds when it comes to getting there, relying on different approaches, using different success metrics and speaking different languages.  

And yet, sales and marketing alignment is not new to the agenda. So why is it still so difficult to achieve? According to Gartner, less than half of organisations (49 per cent) have a common lead definition that was developed and agreed upon by sales and marketing teams together – more than one-third fewer organisations than expected. 

This is usually down to three things:

  1. A lack of communication

  2. A lack of insight into each team’s customer interactions

  3. Disparate and disconnected technologies

The business impact of these can be very costly. Lack of coordination between sales and marketing is not only a cause of frustration for employees; according to a study by LinkedIn, it wastes an estimated $1trillion annually in the US alone. Even for those organisations whose sales and marketing teams appear to operate harmoniously, it’s enough to make you ask: ‘How could we be doing more?’ 

It starts with you 

The first step to achieving greater alignment between sales and marketing functions is to recognise the importance of doing so – and prioritise it for your business. Ensure an open dialogue between the two departments, where you can discuss the important questions: 

  • Are sales and marketing goals truly aligned? 

  • Are teams communicating as well and as often as they should? 

  • Does each function really know how the other is communicating with prospects and customers? 

  • Have you agreed common definitions – for example, what is a qualified lead (you might be surprised to hear two very different answers!)? 

  • Could teams work collaboratively – and more productively – using shared tools? 

  • Ultimately, what financial impact could a better alignment of sales and marketing functions have on the organisation? 

Most businesses that probe a little deeper in this way conclude that there is room for improvement. The question then becomes: “How can we make it happen?” 

Share goals, performance targets and metrics

Much of the frustration we hear from sales professionals when discussing marketing relate to two things: 

  1. Insufficient focus on revenue generation 

  2. Unviable or unqualified leads 

Marketers, on the other hand, often feel that salespeople do not show enough interest in – or acknowledgement of – long-term brand-building, that they are not following up on leads provided, and not providing feedback on why leads may be qualified out. 

To avoid this, it’s a good idea to spend time at the outset communicating the importance of short-term revenue growth and long-term brand development, and ensure both teams are clear on what the sales and marketing process looks like. Then put in place KPIs that measure both teams on their contribution. Shared goals and KPIs should always be centred around the pipeline and revenue; this will go a long way towards bridging the alignment gap, with both teams agreed on the metrics they will be measured against.

Enable with technology

By 2025, 75 percent of the highest growth companies in the world will deploy a revenue operations (RevOps) model, according to Gartner; a move away from siloed and linear sales enablement functions towards revenue enablement activities that support all customer-facing roles and connect every single part of the business. 

This level of alignment will take time, effort and commitment across the organisation – it is not something that can be achieved overnight. Technology can, however, make the transition faster, simpler and more effective. It can also help ensure these changes stick. Specifically, CRM systems can provide a single source of truth, centred around the customer. 

Using these systems provides access to features such as dashboards and reports where sales professionals and marketers can easily see the sales pipeline and track performance and conversions at each stage of the buyer journey, allocate tasks between departments and make required changes to marketing and sales campaigns that are visible to all.

Crucially, a CRM system is both a result and a prerequisite of successful sales and marketing alignment; it requires everyone to have agreed a common language, set mutual KPIs and shown a willingness to work together. But business leaders and their CRM providers must also keep in mind why sales and marketing alignment has yet to be achieved, and these reasons can differ from business to business. 

To ensure maximum return, look for a technology provider that wants to understand these nuances, get under the skin of your business and agree clear business outcomes based on your objectives.